Exploring the Possibilities
There are a number of factors to consider when deciding whether or when to attend graduate school.
- How defined are your goals? Do you need to work first to check them out?
Related work is recommended to gain maturity and can offset mediocre grades/test scores
- What is the probability of finding employment in the field with and
without a graduate degree?
- Costs: calculate the costs of graduate education and add the cost of
deferred income for that period.
- Are you looking for a way to put off career decisions? Avoid the job
search? Avoid adult responsibilities? Do you like intensive study?
- Grade point average - you generally need a solid B average and with
excellence in your chosen area.
Types of Degrees
Masters degrees are offered in most fields; in some fields, such as social work (MSW), library science (MSL), and fine arts (MFA), this degree is considered to be the only degree needed to work as a professional. While the number of credits required varies from university to university, a masters degree generally requires a full time commitment of 1.5 - 2 years.
Highly motivated students who wish to teach in higher education or work in research organizations should consider a doctoral degree. It is possible to enter a doctoral program without previous graduate study. If you are thinking about earning your doctorate degree eventually, but completing a masters degree first, there are two thing to remember: 1) some masters degrees are terminal degrees, meaning that the course work they require cannot be used toward a doctoral degree at a later date; and 2) after a time lapse of 5 - 7 years many doctoral programs consider all previous academic work, including masters degrees, obsolete and non-transferable. Research these points before committing to a program.
Doctoral and professional degrees in medicine and clinical practices require a commitment of 5 - 7 years (or more if internships and residencies are required). In education and certain social science fields, a degree between the masters and doctorate called a Sixth Level or Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study (CAGS) is offered, and often undertaken to increase professional standing and salary.
Although most graduate and professional programs do not require a specific undergraduate degree, they do require completion of specific undergraduate courses. To ensure that these requirements are met, planning for graduate study should begin by the sophomore year. Alternative ways of meeting undergraduate prerequisite course requirements are through attending summer institutes, applying for provisional acceptance, and by taking graduate and undergraduate courses at the same time.
How to Identify Programs
- Review Peterson's Guides to Graduate Study, the Blue
Book or visit Peterson's Education Center
to identify universities that offer programs in your area of interest.
- Ask several faculty members in the discipline about programs they would
- Ask professionals in the field you hope to enter where they did their
graduate work, what degrees they hold, and what programs/ institutions they would recommend.
- Contact professional associations, using the Encyclopedia of
Associations, to determine which programs they approve.
- Read related professional journals to determine where leaders in your
field of interest are teaching/engaging in research.
- Send for graduate catalogs or review home pages for institutions that
interest you; analyze and compare the programs you are considering.
- Visit the graduate department and interview faculty and enrolled students.
Determine whether students are satisfied with the quality of instruction, advising and with the
library and research facilities.
Analyze the information you have gathered (it's a good idea to keep a file/journal of all materials you've accumulated and conversations you've had) to determine which graduate schools and programs best fit your needs . . . then apply! See Applications & Admissions for details.